Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 9, 2010

Jets Prove That 9-2 Isn’t What It Used To Be

For fans of the New York Jets, it has been a very, very long wait. More than four decades have passed since Joe Willie Namath famously guaranteed a victory by the prodigiously underdog Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. As every football fan knows, Namath and the Jets made good on his pledge, defeating the Colts 16-7 and giving the AFL its first triumph in the season-ending championship game.

In the 41 years between that season and this one the Jets have never made it back to the roman numeral contest; and they’ve only gotten close three times, losing the AFC Championship game in 1983, 1999, and again last January. Along the way over those four long decades the Jets compiled an overall losing record, and often seemed to be very much the “other” football team in the New York area, behind the Giants. The Giants after all have been around since 1925 and have won 7 championships, including four in the pre-Super Bowl era and three victories in the big game. Plus after years of playing in a stadium built for a baseball team, in 1984 the Jets moved from Shea to a stadium named for their NFC cousins.

When he was hired prior to last season, head coach Rex Ryan made it clear that his goal was to take the Jets back to the Super Bowl. With a new coach and a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez, New York surprised a lot of fans last year by winning their first three games. Then they went into a tailspin and found themselves with a losing record of 4-6 in late November. But just when it looked like yet another lost season for a team that had known plenty of them, the Jets came close to running the table over the last six weeks. They finished with a 9-7 record and squeezed into the playoffs as one of the two Wild Card teams.

They continued to surprise through the playoffs, beating the Bengals and the Chargers in the first two rounds. In the AFC Championship game they led the Colts 17-13 at halftime, only to run out of gas in the second half, eventually losing to Indianapolis by a score of 30-17.

Coming off that unexpectedly rewarding 2009 season, at long last this was the year that things were finally going to be different. Signaling their new stature was the move to New Meadowlands Stadium. With its interior lighting system that can instantly change the background hues throughout the park from blue to green and its 50/50 joint administration, the Jets were at last on equal footing with the Giants.

On the new field, truly great things were promised. Ryan did his best Namath impersonation during training camp, all but guaranteeing a trip to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV for this year’s team. Despite Ryan’s bravado, his team looked sloppy and disorganized in an opening weekend loss to Baltimore. But they rebounded a week later against their arch-rival New England, the first of nine victories in their next ten games.

So the Jets came to Foxborough last Monday night for the season’s second match against the Patriots, with both teams sporting conference-best 9-2 records and tied for the lead in the AFC East. The game was hyped as the premier Monday night contest of the season. By their public comments in the days leading up to the game, several of the Jets’ players certainly seemed to have bought into that hype.

Gillette Stadium is a great place to watch a football game, but it can be a very hard place to get to. Situated on narrow old U.S. Route 1, a few miles south of one Interstate and a bit further north of another, the traffic backups before and after Patriots home games are legendary. As such it’s likely that this supposedly epic battle was for all intents over before some fans managed to find their seats. The Patriots raced to a 17-0 first quarter lead on the way to a 45-3 humiliation of New York.

If anything, the game was not as close as the score. New England gained over 400 yards, with Tom Brady connecting on 21 of 29 passes to eight different receivers. While Brady was throwing four touchdown passes, Mark Sanchez tossed three interceptions and finished the game with a quarterback rating of 27.8. The Jets were outscored, outplayed and outcoached.

More than anything the contest showed how deceptive a team’s record can be. In compiling their now 10-2 record, the Patriots have defeated the Colts, Chargers, Ravens, Bengals and now the Jets; or every other AFC team that made the playoffs last season. They’ve also beaten the Steelers, who at 9-3 are now tied with the Jets for the second best record in the AFC and are almost certain to make the playoffs this year. Meanwhile the Jets have played just four games against teams that have winning records as this NFL season moves towards its climax. In those four contests New York has just the one victory over New England back in week two. Against the Ravens, Packers and the rematch against the Pats, New York is 0-3 and has been outscored 64-12. Against opponents with winning record, the Jets have just four Nick Folk field goals and not a single touchdown. This is a team that thought it was going to the Super Bowl?

There were plenty of warning signs for the Jets in the three weeks leading up to the forgettable night in Foxborough. New York struggled mightily to beat Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston; going into overtime in the first two games and needing an improbable last-minute touchdown in the third. But seduced by Rex Ryan’s boasts, most Jets fans chose to ignore their team’s ridiculously soft schedule. In the wake of the drubbing, many of those same fans are now predicting a total implosion over the season’s final four weeks.

To be sure, New York still has to face Pittsburgh and Chicago; so there could very well be more losses to come. On the other hand, they are a game ahead of Baltimore and three games ahead of any other AFC Wild Card hopeful. Barring the feared implosion, or perhaps even if it should come, New York is still very likely to make it back to the playoffs. But making it to the playoffs isn’t what Jets fans have waited more than forty years for, and it certainly isn’t what Rex Ryan has promised. But promises aside, it sure looks like the very, very long wait is just going to get longer.

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